July 10, 2007

Buster, Buster, Buster...

Buster Olney is one of the better baseball writers at ESPN. His daily blog is a great read, he's as in touch with the people around baseball (for trade rumors and the like) as anybody, and I love listening to him when he's on the radio. So you can imagine my disappointment when I picked up the most recent issue of ESPN the Magazine the other day and saw this on the cover: "Buster Olney's All-Grinder Team". That's never a good sign. So, although I don't really like doing it, I have to make fun of Buster here and call him out for the lack of information here. Enjoy! (Make sure to check back in a bit for my All-Star Game live-blog!)

The article is called "Premium Grinders", and it picks out an "all-star" team of "grinders", one at each position in each league.

National League

C: Yadier Molina
More invested in his pitchers than in his batting average


That's a fancy way of saying he sucks at hitting. And I mean he really, really sucks at hitting. His career
OPS+ is 66. His OBP last year was .274. Molina's EqA last year was .205, and his hitting alone cost the Cardinals more than one win (-11 Batting Runs Above Replacement). He is a very good fielder, and because he is a catcher, he is still somewhat valuable. But Olney seems to be saying that Molina is more of a "grinder" because of his bad hitting.

1B: Todd Helton
Pitchers say he's the game's toughest two-strike hitter


Okay...but why do we have to take the word of pitchers? We have a little thing called statistics we can use to verify that. Helton's hitting .261 with two strikes this year. That's well above the major league average, which is .201. But I'd rather have someone like Placido Polanco, who is hitting .354 with two strikes. For his career, Helton has an OPS of .828 with two strikes. Albert Pujols (the first guy I looked up) has an .809 OPS with two strikes, in a much tougher hitter's park. Is Helton a great two-strike hitter? Sure. Should we just take the "pitchers" word that he's the toughest two-strike hitter? No.

2B: Chase Utley
Covered with infield dirt by the third inning every night


Here are the
first two in-game pictures returned by Google when you search "Chase Utley". There's a little dirt on him in the first picture, and none at all in the second picture. Maybe these were taken in the second inning. Obviously, Olney didn't mean this literally, but it's a very generic thing you can say about pretty much anybody.

SS: Jimmy Rollins
Loves the pressure of playing the villain on the road


Wait...you forgot...how can you...don't you know
David Eckstein plays shortstop in the National League? He legally changed his middle name last year to "Grinder"! He won't be happy to hear about this. While I appreciate the fact that Olney didn't go with everybody's favorite undersized shortstop and doesn't have just white players on the team (as most people tend to when talking about this kind of thing), this is another very generic thing that you could say about anybody. And Rollins' career OPS on the road is just .738.

3B: David Wright
Plays with a passion that's equal to his talent


Fortunately, he has talent, because otherwise he would suck. By the way, he's white and he's from New York. Funny how we never hear about Jose Bautista's passion...

OF: Aaron Rowand
Will sacrifice life, limb and even his face to make a catch


He's a grinder, because he runs into walls! That's how real men play baseball! Unlike that incredible pussy, Bo Jackson, who ran up the wall instead to avoid a collision, because he's not a grinder. By the way, does Rowand really run into walls all the time? Because it seems to me he's been living off that one play where he face-planted into the wall for a couple years now...it was a good catch, but come on, it was just one play. And Buster, Rowand will actually sacrifice his life to catch a baseball? That seems a little overboard, doesn't it? No? Okay, let's move on.

OF: Juan Pierre
Shows up six hours before game time to practice his bunting


That explains why that's his only skill! You know what would make him an even better player? If he would show up six hours before game time to practice his hitting! Because his OBP is just .311 right now, and his slugging percentage is a woeful .338, good for 168th out of 176 qualifiers. And Buster, does
this make him more of a grinder?

OF: Randy Winn
"No flash," says a GM. "The guy just goes after it."


Uh...can somebody please tell me what the hell this means? Carlos Beltran has so much flash that a guy once mistook him for a Kodak camera. Winn just "goes after it"? Can you name somebody who doesn't "go after it"? Who is this GM, anyways? Wait...don't tell me. It's
Steve Phillips, isn't it? That's gotta be Steve Phillips, right?

P: John Smoltz
Ultimate competitor when pitching, golfing, playing Ping-Pong...


From what I've heard about Smoltz, this is true, although most of what I've read about Smoltz was written by Olney himself. It seems to me that Olney has just taken the nine guys he's heard the best anecdotes about and labeled them "grinders".

So far, here are the criteria for being a "grinder", according to Olney:

Sucks at hitting
Pitchers say he's good with two strikes
Covered with infield dirt (as opposed to the other kinds of dirt one sees on a baseball field)
Loves playing on the road
Plays with "passion"
Will give up their life in order to catch a baseball
Practices bunting but sucks at hitting (again)
Plays ping-pong "competitively"

And we've still got the National League to go!


American League:

C: Jorge Posada/Jason Varitek
Like Munson/Fisk but without the ego and animosity

So, this means...what? They caught at the same time in the two biggest markets in baseball? They were good players? What does this mean, and how does it make them "grinders"?

1B: Kevin Youkilis
Triple-A talent, big league determination

There's a larger article that explains this more, and the gist of it is that Youkilis is a "grinder" for taking lots of pitches and walking a lot. So...plate discipline doesn't count as "talent"? Don't tell Barry Bonds this, he might get angry. Bonds walks more than Youkilis...why couldn't you call him a "grinder"? I'd say he has as much "determination" as Youkilis does...

2B: Placido Polanco
Does whatever's needed: relay throw, bunt, hit and run, two-out RBI.

Not many people remember this, but when he was back in Seattle, A-Rod would repeatedly not make relay throws. His outfielders would throw him the ball, and he'd just stand there with it, because he refused to make relay throws, because he's not a "grinder". Also, Polanco has just 14 two-out RBI this year...yes, RBI is a dumb stat, but Olney brought it up. Polanco has 154 total 2-out RBI in ten seasons in the big leagues.

SS: Derek Jeter
Grinds it out in the clutch: He's hitting .431 with RISP this year.

How surprising! Jeter, a grinder? Who would have guessed? By the way, do you know what Mr. Clutch hit with RISP in 2005? .261. In 2004: .281. For his career: .312 (his overall BA is .318). That's because clutch hitting is mostly based on luck, and not due to some innate ability or "grinderness" (look for that word in next year's Merriam-Webster).

3B: Eric Chavez
Embraces responsibility as one of team's only high-paid veterans

Uh...does that mean he's a grinder because gets paid a lot? It's A-Rod's lucky day! I don't really know why making more money gives Chavez more "responsibility", and I don't get why being responsible makes him a "grinder".

OF: Curtis Granderson
Ranks among league leaders in triples, hustle, and blogs

Otherwise known as the grinder's triple crown. Other guys have tied him in blogs (1), but nobody can match his 15 triples. And his Hustle Index of 113.7 is bested only by David Eckstein's 138.3; Derek Jeter is third with 104.9. And yes, I just made that stat up, to demonstrate how dumb it is to say he "ranks among the league leaders in hustle".

OF: Carl Crawford
Will get career hit No. 1,000 well before he turns 27 in August 2008.

And this makes him a "grinder"...how? Being a good hitter at a young age makes you a "grinder"? Hey, Albert Pujols, you're in luck!

OF: Grady Sizemore
Leaves more skin on warning tracks than any other outfielder

Actually, that's false; Aaron Rowand has him bested in Skin Left On Warning Tracks (SLOWT) with 36 square inches, but Sizemore is close with 32.5. Making up statistics is fun! By the way, all six outfielders Buster names are center fielders. Corner outfielders can't be "grinders"?

DH: David Ortiz
Nagging leg injuries haven't kept him out of the lineup

How can a DH be considered a "grinder"? All he has to do is go to bat four times. Come on, Buster, if you're going to make a completely meaningless and arbitrary list, at least have it make some sense...

P: Roy Halladay
Resumed workouts just days after having his appendix removed in May.

Jon Lester returned from cancer. That doesn't make him "grindery" enough for you? Other pitchers have battled injuries that actually, you know, have to do with pitching...stuff like elbow problems and stuff. I fail to see how Halladay is more of a "grinder" than any other pitcher.

So, to recap, Buster Olney's definition of a "grinder", in no particular order:

Sucks at hitting
Is good at hitting
Practices bunting but sucks at hitting
Walks a lot
Pitchers say he's good with two strikes
"Grinds it out in the clutch" by hitting exactly the same as always
Covered with infield dirt
Leads the league in hustle and blogs
Does whatever's needed
Leaves skin on the warning tracks
Loves playing on the road
Plays with "passion"
Willing to give up his life in order to catch a baseball
Makes lots of money and is "responsible"
Catcher in Boston or New York
Swings a bat four times a game while sort of injured
Comes back quickly from appendicitis
Plays ping-pong

So, by my count, everybody in the major leagues is a "grinder". Except maybe that lazy, selfish ungrindery Pat Burrell.

1 comment:

Nate said...

In tears laughing at this. I love Buster Olney, the guy is one of the best there is, but he definitely sets himself up to be made fun of with this loosely defined "grinder" list. Great job of making it funny without being mean.